Archive for September 3rd, 2012

I respect orders but I respect myself too and I do not obey to foolish rules made especially to humiliate me.  –  Jean-Paul Sartre

When pouring something out of a bottle, it’s important to hold the container at such an angle that the contents reach the mouth in a steady stream and thus flow out smoothly; when done correctly, this can be achieved from a great height without splashing (I often do it when pouring drinks to amuse myself).  See, it’s not the velocity of the liquid which creates turbulence, but rather the size of the opening relative to the volume of fluid moving through it.  If the bottle is tilted too far from the horizontal for the degree of fullness, the liquid trying to escape the bottle blocks the smooth flow of air into it, thus creating the turbulence which makes the familiar “glug-glug” sound and leads to splashing.  And if the mouth of a bottle is very narrow and the container very full, it’s difficult to get the liquid to pour out without making a mess no matter how low the angle of elevation.

No, this isn’t a lesson in fluid dynamics, but rather the setup for a metaphor.  We’ve all seen this principle in action, but apparently prohibitionists and politicians are unable to recognize that it works the same way with people.  Whenever a government uses law or procedure to restrict the natural actions of human beings, the result is a situation exactly like that I described.  As long as the regulatory “mouth” is wide enough and the number of people desiring to move through it small and gradual enough, there is no problem; for example, every student can graduate from school as soon as he completes the required course of study.  There is no arbitrary cap on the number of graduates per year, nor a waiting period for entering school in the first place, nor a shortage of desks:  the mouth of the jar is wide enough to allow a smooth and even flow.  But as the “opening” is narrowed by restrictions such as licenses, quotas, partial prohibitions and other such measures, the fewer the number of people who can make it through in any given time period; if a very large number of people want to engage in the restricted activity, turbulence is generated just as it is in the highly-angled or narrow-necked bottle.

This is a major problem with “legalized” prostitution; it creates a bottleneck which is always smaller than the number of women who wish to engage in harlotry.  Licensing impedes any woman who is unwilling or unable to secure such a license due to a criminal record or lack of a proper visa; registration impedes any woman who does not wish to be on a public “known prostitute” list; restricting the number of positions (such as Amsterdam-style windows) impedes any woman over that number; legalizing only brothels impedes those who are temperamentally unable to dance to someone else’s tune or practically unable to keep the required schedule, etc.  But as in the case of the liquid, inability to flow through smoothly does not mean total stoppage; rather, it leads to a chaotic, uneven situation which results not only in the marginalization of a large fraction of the hooker population (80% of Nevada whores and 95% of Greek ones work illegally), but also establishes the opportunity for official corruption, enables exploitation of the sort fashionably labeled “sex trafficking”, and creates an underclass who are ripe targets for violence because they dare not report it for fear of being arrested themselves.

Prohibitionists are fond of pointing to such problems in legalization schemes in order to argue that the “neck” should be made smaller still by criminalization, which as the experiences of the United States and Norway have demonstrated is rather like trying to stop the flow from a garden hose by putting one’s thumb over the end.  The recent report by the Kirby Institute on the sex industry in New South Wales points out the superiority of decriminalization over legalization:

…reforms that decriminalized adult sex work have improved human rights; removed police corruption; netted savings for the criminal justice system; and enhanced the surveillance, health promotion, and safety of the NSW sex industry.  International authorities regard the NSW regulatory framework as best practice…Licensing of sex work (‘legalisation’) should not be regarded as a viable legislative response.  For over a century systems that require licensing of sex workers or brothels have consistently failed – most jurisdictions that once had licensing systems have abandoned them.  As most sex workers remain unlicensed criminal codes remain in force, leaving the potential for police corruption.  Licensing systems are expensive and difficult to administer, and they always generate an unlicensed underclass…[which] is wary of and avoids surveillance systems and public health services:  the current systems in Queensland and Victoria confirm this fact.  Thus, licensing is a threat to public health…

Unfortunately,  politicians are always happy to ignore facts if they think it will make them political coin:

The state government will take over the licensing of brothels from councils and establish a new authority to oversee the entire sex industry in a bid to rein in corruption and threats to workers.  A new squad will clamp down on the running of brothels by organised crime groups, shut down illegal brothels and prevent the exploitation of workers as sex slaves in NSW.  The Brothel Licensing Authority would also look at strip clubs, massage parlours and escort services, some of which “have functioned as pseudo-brothels”, Special Minister for State Chris Hartcher said yesterday… “One of the biggest issues is the exploitation of women, particularly Asian women”…

This is despite the total lack of any credible evidence for “organized crime”, “sex slaves” or anything else; as the Kirby report stated, “Some individuals…contend that hundreds of Asian women are trafficked to brothels in Australia but present little evidence.  The Federal Government…found no evidence of recent trafficking of female sex workers in the Sydney brothel survey…”  Luckily, not all legislators are lining up behind those who intend to cut off their noses to spite their faces:

…Greens MP Cate Faehrmann says a brothel licensing scheme will be a public health disaster for NSW, and could lead to increased rates of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.  “The evidence against licensing is overwhelming.  It will lead to poorer health and public safety outcomes, not just for sex workers but for the entire community…Licensing schemes have been a dismal failure in other states.  Where they exist they are extremely expensive and have the opposite effect of what is intended, creating a more dangerous environment for sex workers and their clients.  In contrast, NSW has an enviable record on HIV prevention, and this is partly down to the decriminalisation model…In Queensland, where brothel licensing scheme operates, around 90% of the industry has been forced underground.  That means the majority of sex work is unregulated, illegal and therefore more dangerous.  Workers and clients simply don’t have the kind of access to health services and law enforcement that is necessary.  The timing of this announcement is typical.  This isn’t about protecting women and cleaning up the sex industry, this is a cynical attempt to politicise another controversial issue for political gain…”

Alas, most politicians don’t care how many people get hurt if they think they can profit by it; they are willing to lie, to ignore well-supported findings and the experience of other governments, and to completely abandon common sense and basic human decency in order to gain some advantage, however small and fleeting, over their competitors.  In this they are exactly like the “big box” retailers who hold “Black Friday” or Boxing Day sales with ridiculously low prices only available for one day, thereby creating a very narrow bottleneck in time and space which is virtually guaranteed to result in chaos.

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